tv Tavis Smiley WHUT October 24, 2012 7:00pm-7:30pm EDT
tavis: good evening. from los angeles, i am tavis smiley. tonight, a conversation with best-selling novelist t.c. boyle. he is out this fall with his latest, called "san miguel." the book is already a new york times best-seller and focuses on three strong-willed women. a conversation with t.c. boyle is coming up right now. >> there is a saying that dr. king had that said there is always the right time to do the right thing. i just try to live my life every day by doing the right thing. we know that we are only halfway to completely eliminate hunger, and we have a lot of work to do. walmart committed $2 billion to fighting hunger in the u.s. as we work together, we can stamp hunger out. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you.
tavis: please welcome t.c. boyle back to this program. the perennial new york times best selling author is again on the times' list with his latest, called "san miguel." he continues his post at the english department at usc. good to have you back on this program. >> thanks. tavis: do you want to talk about the book first or politics first? >> whenever you want to talk about is fine with me. tavis: are you happy that last night was the last debate? >> i certainly am. tavis: what do you make of the fact that these races for the
white house seemed to be perennial campaigns? if you lose, like romney did last time, the campaign continues. if you win, like obama did, the campaign continues. >> i think we need to change the constitution. there should be 16-year term. -- one 6-year term. i have a whole five-point plan to reinvigorate america. tavis: give me more. >> i would legalize all drugs and sell them at the pharmacy tomorrow. we would be in the black in a year. i would cut the defense budget by half and double the salary of every teacher in america. i would reinvigorate the ccc, give everybody $20, and fill some pot holes. keep it going, number four, i would mandate that every car in america has to drive on hydrogen fuel. in five years. tavis: that would solve the
energy dependence problem. >> there are a few guys who give a lot of money to our politicians in the oil industry who would not like that very much. in short, what i'm saying is, in order to do this, i would have to seize power in this country. i am too busy writing books. tavis: what do you make of the fact that some of the things you just said our common sense ideas, particularly the one about the cars. and the teachers, that makes sense. what do you make of the fact that so much of these campaigns, so much has to do with getting away with common-sense ideas? i sense there are so wedded to ideology that we look passed out -- will pass good ideas. >> it is war out there and it has been for the last 20 years or so. it is a shame. our president wants to be ecumenical. i hope that he can be in his second term. i hope that the other party will
listen to that. tavis: i like your word choice, ecumenical. that is one way to put it. almost to a person, every guess i have had on this program, every guest who supports the president, believes that, in a second term, he is going to be that way, ecumenical, more progressive. what is the reason he is going to be more of that? >> it depends on congress as well, if he can get anything done. we will see what congress looks like after the election as well. but politics, it is like every four years, it is talking about movie stars getting divorced and married. let's not talk about things like that. let's talk about the real things that matter in this world, like literature. [laughter] tavis: one last question and we will come back to what really
matters, literature. where foreign policy is concerned, that was the center of the last debate. in the coming days, people will be the constructing who won, who lost, what the distinctions are. do you think mr. romney is ready for prime time? every time he opened up his mouth about foreign policy, he put his foot in his mouth. is he ready for prime time on foreign policy. >> i like the fact when our president points out the fact that he has been the president for the last four years. that gives a stamp of authority. tavis: we will see what happens just days from now. are you a in the booth kind of guy or a by mail kind of guy? >> i have to vote by mail because i am on a long book tour. i will not be home for it. i am a lifelong democrat and if i voted my self interests, i
would be a republican. but i do not, because i believe in social issues. tavis: i feel you on that, in more ways than one, especially where my money is concerned. i digress on that point. what really matters in the world, literature, let me offer this question as a way into the conversation about your new book. in one of the earlier debates -- a lot of things have not been discussed in these debates, but in the last one, the town hall debate, we had a conversation where somebody asked a specific question about education. we did get some conversation about education. let me ask specifically what the value is these days of a liberal arts education. you have one of those educations. it is getting poo-poo'ed more
than ever now. make the best case you can make for a good liberal arts education. >> me, sitting right here. i am the first of my family to go to college. my father made it to the eighth grade. my mother made high school, but it was the depression. i am solely a product of state schools and state universities. for liberal arts, that is why i continue at usc. i love the idea that it transformed me. i went to music school as a saxophone player. i loved john coltrane. he was my hero. i wanted to be just like him. he was a genius and i was not. i felt my audition, but i was at a liberal arts college. i said, what my going to do? i became an english major. i discovered flannery o'connor so i was history and english.
junior year, i went into a creative writing class and here i am, talking to you. a lot of young people do not know who they are or what they want to be. i think it's great that you can be exposed to a whole lot of -- where there be a psychologist alive if we did not have to take psych 101? tavis: you mentioned john coltrane and you made a joke that he was a genius and you were not. a lot of folks will get a liberal arts education but there will not become t.c. boyle. you are a genius at writing books. not everyone will become t.c. boyle. you get a liberal arts education and you come out and you do what with it? how do you answer that question practically for young people who want to get a job? we saw that there are just not enough jobs out there for them. as opposed to looking for what the world needs and try to plug
into a degree that way, what do you do? >> i have no idea what to do in life. i wound up teaching. again, let's get more people into the teaching profession. who have a brain and the ability. that is one thing we can do. tavis: if you are not going to pay them and moreover, going to attack them, how do you convince people to be teachers? >> salary. remember my 5-point plan. tavis: i forgot, you are running. >> absolutely. i would make it an attractive profession. it is the essence and lifeblood of everything we have going on in this country and we are neglecting it. by the way, you asked a specific question, what are we going to do with them? i am teaching fiction writing. everybody who wants to be in my position is not going to make it at that level. there are other fields that they
go into. a lot of my students can go into journalism, film. since they're very creative, about half of them are out on the boulevard with very creative signs begging for change. [laughter] tavis: let me go right to the book, "san miguel." how does it feel to be a woman? >> it feels good, thank you. last time, we were talking about "when the killings done." i discovered a story and it was a memoir. when i first discovered the book, it was the view of the husband and the wife. once i got into it, i realize that i just want to channel these women. it is a challenge. can i do it? can i inherit the persona of a woman? i took it as a challenge. it was not easy to do but i am
happy to do it. tavis: i know you put the book out and the new york times has it on the list. a lot of people think you have done a good job. what do you think of how you inhabited these women? >> is not for me to say. let me put it this way -- my mom loves it. tavis: if your mom likes it, that is all that matters. >> i will say that while i was composing this book, i did wear a skirt and it helped. i will see you again next year. i am just about to begin a new novel. i have done research for it. it is a contrast from this one. it will be your basic hairy- chested man is novel. i have been shaving under hear all this time. i am just going to let it go. [laughter] but you dodding, not want to do the same thing over and over again. i am always trying for a new way
in. i am an artist. that is what i do. i am not interested in giving speeches. i am just interested in this art. it is fascinating for me. i begin a book, i have no idea where it is going to go where -- or what is going to be. it is a process of discovery so it is exciting. tavis: what did you find most challenging about trying to give a voice, although it is a horse -- is a historical novel, but what was the most difficult part of trying to channel and give a voice to these women? >> even more difficult, it is the first long book i have done that is not, a court does not have any irony. i grew up as a wise guy and i work more easily with irony and comedy. i am taking a lot of challenges here. the hardest thing was the second part of the book about the
daughter, edith. my own daughter, who is now 31 years old, she insisted that i should tell the story of a 15- year-old girl in 1888. i took it as a challenge to try to do that. for those who do not know, i should tell a little bit about the story. there are two narratives going on. the first is 1888. i discovered this partial diary by a woman called out morantha waters. she was living in san francisco with her husband in a nice apartment. her second husband said to her, you have $10,000 from your first husband. let's invest in san miguel island. it is one of the islands off the coast of santa barbara, where i live, the farthest south and the windiest. the problem with her, she had
consumption. it is 1888. the only cure they knew was a rest cure with fresh air. in san for cisco, we all know it is foggy, cold, and miserable. her husband said, if we go to san miguel, it will be warmer, good air, it will help you. guess what? it is even worse than san francisco. the wind blows, it is eroded, they have sandstorms, so she did not do so well. she lasted six months and a few years later, she died. meanwhile, the husband, like some fairy tale, took the young girl, edith, out of school and brought her back out there to live with three men and be there to take care of her. whether she escapes or not, i am not going to tell everybody. you are going to have to read the book. the second part, i was amazed at the correspondences between the other story. a second family lived on the island trying to do the same thing, to raise sheep and live
apart from america, live your own utopian world. again, a war veteran, a woman who was also 38, a librarian from new york city. he brought her out there and things went pretty well for them until world war two came along. of course, there is a lot of misery involved. why would i write a book without misery in it? people do not really want to be miserable -- tavis: speaking of world war two and misery, you wrote this book during our break recession. -- our great recession. how does the timing of writing a book impact the riding of the book? >> great observation. the second story takes place during the depression. the lester family became quite well known as a result. they were featured on night magazine with photos, swiss family lester.
the whole country was in a depression and they fixated on this family as living apart of their own country and being self-sustaining. they had two young daughters while they were there. the daughters had never been a short period when they first came ashore to santa barbara, they were 4 and 7 years old. the press followed them around. the girls had never seen a tree, a house, a car. their first ice cream cone was reported by photographers. it is pretty fascinating. the fact that they were living there during the depression fascinated everyone. why could we all not live like this? tavis: talk to me about the notion of escapism. you do not get at this directly in the novel, but as i go through it, i sense that the channel islands, although it did
not turn out the way he did -- the way edith thought it might, i sense that these islands represent a sort of escapism for these characters. >> and for me, too. we have talked about my last four books. more and more, i am interested in our impact on the planet. 7 billion a loss, -- of us, a finite planet, what is to become of that? where do we go from here? there is an element of this idea of utopia in my work. you can trace it back for several books. i do not have any solutions, unlike my political solutions, which would put us back on track in a year. i am just posing the question and i am exploring the stories
for my own benefit. i want to put myself inside these people and see what they might have -- what they might have actually said and however but it felt. tavis: i have not had a chance to ask you this in all the conversations we have had. tell me about your process. i know you are away from usc because you are out on tour. you are not teaching this semester. how does your process work? you are putting out these best- selling books and novels and teaching at the same time. how do you do all that? >> i was born hyperactive. in my day, when i was a kid, we did not have psychiatrists and ritalin. we just had a back door. [laughter] i spent most of my life, winter and summer, outside. i have a lot of energy. even now, as an old man, i'm going to be 87 in december. tavis: yeah, i know. do you write in the mornings and
teach during the day? >> people say, i write every day, but not today. because i am on tour. you see me once per year. i am locked away, dressed in rags, shivering, typing. that is my life. i tried to keep mentally healthy by realizing i am not going to work 12 hours per day. i'm going to work three or four hours and the rest of the day, i go and do something physical. i have to clean up after my wife, do your work, what on the beach, hike, i rent a place up in the sequoia forest. i spend a lot of time up there by myself, like walt whitman, walking in the wilderness, muttering to myself with tears streaming down my cheeks. this is my hobby. [laughter] tavis: you have said that you do art to the exclusion of everything else. when you focus in on it, it excludes everything else.
tell me why i should not read that as an elitist statement coming from an artist? >> maybe it is, but i consider it more just. i am able to do what i wanted to do. you look at me today, sitting b, you would never imagine that i might have been a scruffy, rebellious degenerate, you know? tavis: from new york. >> i do not do well with authority or agreeing with anybody on anything. to have this loaner profession is ideal for me. tavis: there are points that i can go back to in this conversation where it finally occurred to me, last night, doing my research for this conversation, to ask you whether or not, given that you grew up and were born in new york, would you have written these kinds of books -- you see where i'm going
with this -- the story lines, the narratives, the characters, let's start with "san miguel." would you have written this stuff if you had stayed in new york and not come to california? >> not at all. we all have these choices to make in life than we do not know where we are going to wind up. i was saying to her, i got my ph.d. at the university of iowa. i wanted to be a professor and i interviewed a couple of places, including minneapolis. usc gave me a job and i came here. maybe i would be writing about swedish immigrants, but i came here and there was the debate over illegal immigration from the south. i wrote a book to try to address that. i've written several books set in southern california. i would have been a totally different artist if i had stayed in new york or gone to minneapolis or stayed in iowa city. it is where life takes you.
we are all curious. i am extremely curious about where i live and what goes on here. here were these channel islands. i had never been to the channel islands. there they are, sitting right off the shore. i see them every day. what goes on out there? now i know. tavis: it is not like you spent a whole lot of time trying to research for the book. >> when we last talked, i was lucky enough to meet some of the biologists out on the central -- out on santa cruz island. i do not do well at sea. just to get across is 1.5 hours on rough seas. i did not actually street the boat with vomit, but i was out there in the wind. i also had a wonderful experience going out there. by the way, i recommended to everybody, to go out to santa cruz island for the day. spend four hours there, 1.5
hours back. you always see while life in the channel. the captain of the vote would pull up for the dolphins and whales. very few have ever had -- i got to go home after those trips and wash whale snot out of my hair. tavis: and you want to recommend that to the rest of us? [laughter] >> it was a great joy. the capt. pulls up, it is beautiful, beautiful. the smell is not so bad. put a hole in a hand -- in a can of sardines and leave it on the sidewalk for a week and that is what it smells like. tavis: let me close this conversation where we began. we began talking about the election that is so important. just days away now. i want to go back to one of these earlier debates when mr. romney utter the phrase --
what is there for us to learn in a contemporary moment about women, what matters about the issues? you tell me. >> i saw a bumper sticker yesterday and said, "why would anyone in vote for romney -- any woman vote for romney?" as far as what i learned from tried to inhabit these women's personalities, i do not know. i am just trying to grow as an artist. she said -- my wife said to me, your women characters are so flat. i said, so are my male characters. i was more focused on ideas and jokes. i hope that i am growing as an artist as i move along. tavis: the book is called "san miguel." the latest novel already on the new york times best-seller list. and his mom likes it.
if those recommendations do not help you get it, then i cannot help you. great to see you. that is our show tonight. you can get our app on the itunes app store. thank you for watching and, as always, keep the faith. onfor more information today's show, visit tavis smiley at pbs.org. tavis: hi, i'm tavis smiley. joining next time with peter nicks on his acclaimed documentary about health care in the inner city. that is next time. we will see you then. >> there is a saying that dr. king had that said there is always the right time to do the right thing. i just try to live my life every day by doing the right thing. we know that we are only halfway to completely eliminate hunger, and we have a lot of work to do. walmart committed $2 billion to